The world said goodbye to Annie Glenn last week.

Who exactly is Annie Glenn, most of you are probably asking.

I get it; I hadn't heard of her either, that is until my hubby (who is a bit of a space buff) decided to give me a quick primer on who she was and why we - as Speech Pathologists - should care.

Annie Glenn was married to John Glenn, one of the original 7 Mercury Astronauts and the first man to orbit the earth.

The Mercury 7 were the first real post-war heroes in the United States, acclaimed and worshipped by the masses both for their bravery and for their roles in catapulting America past Russia in the great late 1950s/early 1960s space race.

As depicted in one of my husband's favorite films - The Right Stuff - the women married to these courageous space-suit-wearing pioneers, were just as popular and prominent as their husbands.

Housewives across the country looked to these ladies - the Astronauts Wives Club as they called themselves - as symbols of patriotism, loyalty, refined and sensible taste and good wholesome family values.

Their pictures were splashed across every large magazine in the country and they were interviewed ad nauseam by all the networks. They were all a hot ticket. The country just couldn't get enough of them.


But one of the Mercury wives was conspicuously silent: Annie Glenn.

Unbeknownst to the public, Annie had been dealing with a speech impairment for most of her life and her terrible stutter kept her from speaking publicly.

This, of course, did not keep John Glenn from falling in love with her and marrying her (their marriage lasted more than 70 years until John's death in 2016) , nor did it affect her deep abiding friendships with not only her fellow Astronaut Wives Club members, but countless people she'd befriended since she was a child.

But it did keep her from getting in front of a mic and speaking to the country.

As a child, Annie Glenn did not feel hindered by her stutter; she participated in softball, girls scouts, school dances and choir. The stutter was diagnosed in 6th grade and determined that it was present in 85 percent of her verbal utterances.

After graduating college, Glenn wanted to get a job in a different town but because of her disability, her parents were worried about her living independently.

However, like most stutterers, Glenn found ways to effectively communicate without speaking out loud. For example, before shopping, she would write down exactly what she was looking for and then show the note to the sales clerk when she needed help.

She successfully used the strategies she would create to navigate the tricky waters of adulthood, as both one of the most famous women on the planet as an astronaut's wife and then later as the wife of a US Senator as John Glenn entered Congress representing Ohio.

But then, at the age of 53, Annie Glenn discovered and attended a three-week treatment course at Hollins Communications Research Institute in Roanoke, Virginia, to help with her disfluency.

After attending the treatment course, her speech was greatly improved; and while she did not consider herself "cured" of stuttering she was finally able to confidently vocally interact with others.[

And when her husband began campaigning for the Senate, she was able to support him by giving speeches at public events and at rallies.[

Glenn used her newfound voice to bring attention to the disabled who she knew had been overlooked so often.

And Annie Glenn would further pay it forward, as she became an adjunct professor with Ohio State's Speech Pathology Department.

Many of us are members of the American Speech and Hearing Association. Well guess who received the first ever award presented by ASHA for her meritorious service to those with communicative disorders?

That's right: Annie Glenn.

And to one-up ASHA, in 1987 the National Association for Hearing and Speech  introduced the first annual Annie Glenn Award for Achievement for achieving distinction despite a communication disorder.

Glenn presented the award to actor James Earl Jones as it's first recipient.

Annie Glenn was inducted into the National Stuttering Association Hall of fame in 2004 and her beloved Ohio State University renamed 17th Avenue (on its campus) to Annie and John Glenn Avenue.

Annie Glenn succumbed to the effects of COVID-19 last week in a Minnesota nursing home.

She was 100 years old.

Her husband may have been the first to orbit the earth, but with her work on behalf of those with communication disorders, Annie Glenn sure had The Right Stuff.

#speechpathology #stutter #therightstuff #annieglenn #earlylanguage